The Politics of Domesticity – Examining Structures in the Lives of Foreign Domestic Helpers

In many parts of the world, foreign domestic helpers form an essential part of the workforce, providing crucial support in households. Yet, behind the veneer of household harmony lies a complex web of power dynamics that often disadvantage these workers. Examining the politics of domesticity reveals the intricate power structures at play in the lives of foreign domestic helpers. At the heart of these power dynamics is the asymmetry of power between employers and domestic helpers. Employers hold significant control over various aspects of the helper’s life, including their employment status, living conditions, and daily activities. This power dynamic is exacerbated by structural inequalities, such as language barriers, legal restrictions, and social stigma, which further limit the agency of domestic helpers. One key manifestation of power in the employer-helper relationship is economic dependency. Many foreign domestic helpers migrate in search of better economic opportunities, often leaving behind their families and support networks. However, their economic vulnerability leaves them reliant on their employers for their livelihood, making it challenging to negotiate fair wages and working conditions.

Domestic Helpers

This economic dependency perpetuates a cycle of exploitation, where domestic helpers are often underpaid and overworked. Furthermore, the domestic sphere, traditionally associated with femininity and caregiving, becomes a site of gendered power dynamics. The gendered division of labor assigns domestic work to women, both in the household and in the workforce. This gendered expectation reinforces the subordinate position of female domestic helpers, who are often subjected to discriminatory treatment and gender-based violence. Additionally, the intersectionality of race, nationality, and class further complicates power dynamics within the domestic sphere. Foreign domestic helpers, often migrants from low-income countries, face racial discrimination and xenophobia, which intersect with their economic vulnerability to reinforce their marginalized status. These intersecting forms of oppression exacerbate the power imbalance between employers and domestic helpers, making it difficult for them to assert their rights and demand fair treatment. Moreover, the legal frameworks governing domestic work often fail to adequately protect the rights of domestic helpers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Many countries have restrictive visa regulations and labor laws that limit the rights of 外傭續約, leaving them with little recourse in cases of abuse or exploitation. The lack of legal protections further entrenches the power imbalance between employers and domestic helpers, perpetuating a system of exploitation and impunity. Despite these challenges, domestic helpers have shown resilience and agency in navigating power dynamics within the household. Grassroots movements and advocacy groups have emerged to fight for the rights of domestic helpers, challenging oppressive structures and advocating for legal reforms. Additionally, domestic helpers engage in everyday acts of resistance, from forming solidarity networks to asserting their dignity and autonomy in their work. Economic dependency, gendered expectations, intersecting forms of oppression, and inadequate legal protections all contribute to the marginalization and exploitation of domestic helpers. Yet, despite these challenges, domestic helpers continue to resist and advocate for their rights, challenging oppressive power dynamics and striving for a more just and equitable society.